There is a small, but palpable sense of disgust for gay men in Tim Story's Think Like a Man, which is based on comedian/self-styled love expert Steve Harvey's inane self-help book with a slightly longer title, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. The only explicitly homo dude we ever see is in a pink polo, swishing his shoulders as he attempts to fight women shoppers from grabbing the book he's about to buy ("For me!" he says with several S's). Gayness is otherwise relegated to the taboo: the group of six men the film follows routinely freak out when they are in the presence of a shirtless or under-dressed buddy (this mild gay panic ensues in kitchens and locker rooms). Sentiments like violin-playing proving that one's son is gay and that one must qualify his Oprah-watching with, "No homo," are expressed. A guy buying a book for his mother's book club is deemed "kinda gay" by a female character, and after dazzling a pretty woman (played by Kelly Rowland) at a bar, Romany Malco's character, Zeke, tells her confusingly, "I'm gonna walk away like a fairy now." Um, bye.
This isn't surprising for a few reasons. The film's source material, after all, has an extremely limited view of gay men. Harvey advises women:
...You need a gay guy-someone you can go shopping with, who doesn't want anything from you but gossip and details about what the old man bought you, which errands you sent the ugly guy to take care of, and exactly how Mandingo had you doing monkey flips for a week. See, the gay guy gives you all the conversation you need (smile).
(Among Harvey's most annoying writing habits is his insistence on punctuating the least funny of statements by writing out "smile.")
But this treatment of the male homosexual is especially apt because Think Like a Man files every one of its heterosexual characters into a type – it's at least an equal-opportunity marginalizer. The film asks us to sit through two hours of scenarios playing out mismatches of male-female minds like The Non-Committer vs. The Girl Who Wants the Ring, The Dreamer vs. The Woman Who Is Her Own Man, The Player vs. the 90-Day Rule Girl. Whatever that means. The movie consistently undermines the book's assertion that we all fit into types, since exactly what the types we're supposed to be absorbing are unapparent as soon as the titles announcing them fade from screen. Even the fictional characters dreamed up by screenwriters Keith Merryman and David A. Newman have more depth than what Harvey envisions in his supposedly nonfiction book. (His envisioning is based, by the way, on no science or even survey – the only proof he offers regarding the veracity of his observations and advice throughout the book are references to incidents that happened between him and his wife, as well as between his parents).
Fictional characters especially pop when the performances are this good (way too good, in fact, for the material) – Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart and Michael Ealy all kill an occasionally hilarious, always breathless script. There are about a dozen of high-profile cameos from the likes of Ron Artest, Keri Hilson, Wendy Williams, eccentric Sister 2 Sister editor Jamie Foster Brown and Chris Brown. (He portrays an inconsiderate asshole and comes off as a total natural.) The pacing alone makes the film far more consumable than Harvey's poorly written philosophies ("Now I know good and hell well," is how one sentence of his book starts).
The book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man is repulsive for its assertion that all men are simple and resulting assumption that they're all the same. (Literally the last chapter is a bunch of answers to questions Harvey made up about what men like. Just so you know: plastic surgery within reason is cool, so are thick women, smoking is a no-no and heels are essential.) There is no sense of human nuance, only the perpetuation that women and men are very, very different. It's not straightforwardly misogynistic, as it advocates a deep respect for women and their power ("She who controls the cookie controls the game," says the film's 90-Day Rule Girl, Mya, played by the almost painfully gorgeous Meagan Good). But it also puts all of the burden on females to conform since boys will be boys, while women are more flexible and mysterious. (Harvey never acknowledges his penis as the root of his bias.) He actually writes:
"We need to talk." For a man, few words are as menacing as those four-especially when a woman is the one saying them and he's on the receiving end. Those four words can mean only two things to men: either we did something wrong or, worse, you really literally just want to talk.
Nice, right? Since Harvey's ideas of human behavior come with strict, heavy outlines, is it any wonder that the film opens with a cartoon portrayal of cavemen to prove why men supposedly behave the way they do?
Harvey is as much a star of the film as any of those who act out his principles. His book is read, discussed, highlighted, narrated (by him as Henson reads in one scene), purchased, advocated and quoted throughout the movie. He pops up in the first few minutes on a fictional talk show and then just as a talking head (except when we see him subsequently, he's on a TV screen on the movie screen, which makes as little sense as it sounds). "Steve says, ‘Don't hate the player…'" announces one character and then the movie cuts to Harvey grinning into camera like a creepy, rubbery uncle who just wants all the kids he's having over to have great sex. Finishing the thought, he bellows, "Change the game."
Oh, if only people would. A movie about heterosexual couples has little place for gay characters, but then so does Harvery's mindset. It'd be hypocritical of me to generalize like Harvey and say that the kind of interpersonal fretting and ring-chasing we see of the straights in Think Like a Man simply wouldn't exist in the typically more direct gay sphere. One thing I can say for sure, though, is that the mass subscription of societal norms that Harvey advocates and Think Like a Man's characters attempt is a lot less relevant to the gay community, which exists outside of such norms in the first place. It's liberating to operate outside of the sexual status quo, and as these characters attempt to shoehorn themselves into it by demanding weddings, forcing themselves into the long-term goals that they don't have and following traditional paths, they come off as pitiful. They are electing to live a life of ball-and-chain clichés by cutting off parts of themselves. And for what? Because they're scared to be alone? Boo hoo. The one thing you can do with your life for certain is use it to write your own narrative. If that narrative happens to intersect with the standard one of marriage, 2.5 kids and affluence, great. But it need not in order for one to achieve happiness.
For his part, Harvey shows no discernible signs of caring about people – this book of non-expert opinions and gender-norm reinforcement exists to sell and the movie exists to push it. The cover is splashed on the screen over a dozen times and the aforementioned numerous verbal references to it make Think Like a Man the best-acted infomercial I've ever seen. That is to say that Think Like a Man is ultimately cynical and depressing. Here's an idea: every time the book is mentioned or seen, take a shot. You'll be drunk in no time and that will help you get over whatever relationship concerns you may have much more effectively than anything Harvey would have you do.